Monday, October 03, 2011

media update: September

I've been using Netflix's streaming service to catch up on episodes of South Park recently, and they sent me an e-mail with the subject line "How was the picture quality of 'Eat, Pray, Queef'?" I laughed so hard I almost wet 'em.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: This slender novel follows a group of Japanese "picture brides" who arrive in America hoping to find a better life and, in most cases, not succeeding.

2. The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen: In this deeply unpleasant book, the unnamed protagonist is a cynical Los Angeles douchebag who constantly bemoans his girlfriend Casey's fat ass, lusts after other women, and masturbates relentlessly. He falls for another woman named Alyna and proceeds to ruin Casey's life, at one point even scheming to make her have a miscarriage. This shitty waste of paper makes the loathsome works of Tucker Max look like Gloria Steinem in comparison.

3. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close: A collection of short stories that follows a group of women as they spend their twenties and thirties in New York City, struggling through their first real jobs and their first real relationships. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but it didn't really stick with me when I was done.

4. The Burning Soul* by John Connolly: Private detective Charlie Parker receives a strange client in the form of Randall Haight, a man being harassed by an anonymous person who knows about a crime Haight committed when he was young. Things get even more complicated by the disappearance of a young girl in the area, and all sorts of ugliness comes to light. I was worried that John Connolly was losing his touch, but this is his best work in a long time. Yay!

5. The Night Circus* by Erin Morgenstern: In the late 19th century, two illusionists named Celia and Marco become unwitting participants in a game that can only end badly for one of them. But as they live and work in the night circus of the title, they begin to fall in love. I think the characters could have been fleshed out more, and there's a Japanese character who comes dangerously close to the Inscrutable Asian stereotype, but overall this is a gripping novel with some gorgeous descriptions of the circus.


1. Tokyo on Foot* by Florent Chavouet: A gorgeously illustrated graphic memoir of the author's time in Japan, including detailed maps of various neighborhoods and sketches of people and things he saw along the way. If you love Japan, this is a must read.

2. The Last of the Live Nude Girls by Sheila McClear: The author's account of working in one of the last remaining Times Square peepshows. Occasionally tedious, but more often fascinating in a trainwrecky kind of way.


1. 20th Century Boys* vols. 13-14 by Naoki Urasawa

2. Kamisama Kiss vols. 3-4 by Julietta Suzuki

3. A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori

4. Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do by Kevin Smith and Terry Dodson

5. Black Bird vol. 10 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

6. Library Wars vol. 6 by Kiiro Yumi

7. Kaze Hikaru vol. 19 by Taeko Watanabe

8. Seiho Boys' High School* vol. 7 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

9. Grand Guignol Orchestra vol. 4 by Kaori Yuki

10. Otomen vol. 11 by Aya Kanno

11. With the Light vol. 8 by Keiko Tobe


1. Rio: Blu, a macaw who can't fly, has spent most of his life in Minnesota with his beloved owner Linda. But a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio begs Linda to bring Blu to Rio so he can mate with Jewel, a feisty female; hijinks ensue. Cute and colorful, but not particularly funny, and the voice work (with the exception of a deliciously campy performance by Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement as an evil cockatoo) isn't anything to write home about either.

Oh, and although this movie was underwhelming, I have to give it props for something: the scene where (SPOILER ALERT if anyone gives a shit) Linda changes into a skimpy costume at Carnaval. As she's walking towards Tulio, the camera pans up her body, and I was thinking "Oh great, now he's going to think she's really hot just because she dressed up and took off her glasses." Which, as a woman who will have to wear glasses the rest of her natural life because she can't wear contacts and the mere thought of Lasik makes her want to run screaming down the street, PISSES ME OFF every time I see that tired bullshit in a movie. "Wow, wearing glasses made her a total dog, but she's smoking hot now!" Nope; they left her glasses on and his jaw still drops at the sight of her. A small thing, but much appreciated.

2. The Adjustment Bureau: Matt Damon stars as a congressman who falls in love with a ballerina after a chance encounter, but a mysterious group of men wants to keep them apart. It's a hard movie to describe without spoiling anything, so I'll just say it was entertaining enough and leave it at that.

3. Hesher: My perennial crush object Joseph Gordon-Levitt (though he looks like shit in this movie) plays the title character, a heavy metal- and fire-loving asshole who insinuates himself into the lives of a grieving young boy and his family. A weird little film, but not without its merits, most notably Devin Brochu's excellent and decidedly non-cutesy performance as the kid.

4. Thor*: When Thor pisses off his father, Odin banishes him to Earth. But thanks to his scheming brother Loki, Thor might just have a chance to redeem himself after all. The plot is kind of goofy, and some of the scenes in Asgard look like airbrush paintings on the side of a 70's stoner van, but it's a fun combination of a classic "fish out of water" story and superhero action, and I really enjoyed it. Plus:

Jesus take the wheel!

5. Paul: Two British geeks on vacation in America decide to visit Area 51, and much to their surprise, they run into a real alien on the way. After getting over their initial terror, they agree to help "Paul" escape the FBI and get back home. It had some really funny moments, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are always a pleasure to watch, but it dragged on for far too long.

6. Hanna: Hanna is a teenage girl who's been trained since childhood to be an elite assassin. When she gets the opportunity to kill the CIA operative who murdered her mother, Hanna goes on the hunt. I was hoping Hanna would be the love child of Hit Girl and Jason Bourne, but unfortunately this wasn't as good as I was led to believe.


Ten years after a fire killed her entire family, Alice Liddell has been released from an insane asylum, but her demons haven't been fully exorcised. Seeking comfort, she returns to the Wonderland of her imagination, but it's been twisted almost beyond recognition. Armed with a rapid-fire pepper grinder, the Vorpal Blade, and a hobbyhorse that she wields like a club, Alice is determined to find out the truth once and for all.

Alice: Madness Returns is a combination platformer and action game. In each level, Alice jumps from platform to platform (some of them invisible unless she uses "shrink sense", which renders them visible for a very short period of time; however, you can't jump while using shrink sense so your timing better be good!), scurries through keyholes, and fights off enemies ranging from Card Knights to grotesquely deformed dolls. Along the way, she recovers memories that start to piece together the dark truth of what happened that fateful night.

The absolute best thing about this game is the art design. Each chapter of Wonderland has a different theme, such as a neighborhood of decrepit dollhouses filled with Mark Rydenesque furniture and mangled toys and an underwater theater populated by can-can dancing oysters and a malevolent Carpenter. In my favorite level, the Mysterious East, Alice jumps from fans to mahjongg tiles while Chinese calligraphy drifts from the sky and paper carp leap through the waves below her. And Alice's costumes change to match each level, too: a kimono-print dress, a shimmering dress of fish scales, and so on. Even the center of the bow in back of the dress changes, from an eyeless doll's head to steampunk gears. It's a small touch that adds a lot. I liked this outfit best:

(If I could sew worth two shits, I'd totally make that dress for Halloween.)

As far as the story goes, A:MR is pretty damn dark. At one point in the "real" world, a straitjacketed Alice staggers through the halls of a mental asylum that's right out of Silent Hill (and has music to match). And the story has some really disturbing thematic elements, so play at your own risk.

A:MR has mediocre voice acting, some irritating glitches, and a few sections made unfairly difficult by a bitchy camera (though the game is generally not all that hard, especially after freakin' Catherine), but they're a small price to pay in order to feast on that gorgeous art design and unsettling story. So if you're willing to tolerate a few bugs at your mad tea party, sit down and enjoy.